ACT tourism authorities will try to use viral marketing in a new $1 million campaign to promote Canberra, offering 500 people a free holiday in return for spruiking the city through social media.
Australian Capital Tourism's ''human brochure'' campaign, which began yesterday, is trying to collect ''first-hand accounts of our nation's capital''. It is looking for people who are active on social media, and will give them - and a friend or their family - a free weekend in Canberra.
''Rather than the usual things marketers write about, you have the opportunity to share your genuine experience. It's honest, open and real - by the people for the people. The human brochure is, as far as we know, a world first,'' the tourism body's website said.
The ACT government will pay for the 500 people's return airfare to Canberra (except if the person is in NSW, in which case they will receive $75 towards travel costs), accommodation, main meals and selected activities.
There are four itineraries on offer: family fun, soft adventure, foodies, and arts and culture.
The arts and culture weekend takes people through the city's galleries and offers the chance to ''work with world-renowned artists and create a unique memento of your visit''.
The food and wine weekend includes a stroll through vineyards and the chance to meet winemakers over a long lunch, while the family-friendly weekend appears to include visits to Questacon, Cockington Green and a behind-the-scenes visit to National Zoo and Aquarium.
People on the soft adventure itinerary will begin the day with a ride in a hot air balloon, before moving on to the city's mountain bike trails.
''Then all we ask is that you blog, post, tweet and share your experience before you arrive, while you're here and when you get home,'' the site said. ''People can then follow you online and learn first-hand what it's like here.''
A panel of judges will choose who wins. The promoters ask for details of entrants' Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Foursquare accounts, how often they use them and what they use them for.
Social media expert Laurel Papworth said the competition by its nature was short-term and did not build long-term engagement.
''It's not community building, it's campaign building,'' she said.
She also questioned how the organisers would select the 500 people. It could choose 500 regular people, with 25 Twitter followers and 100 Facebook friends, which would mean the message got out to about 50,000 people. Or it could focus on 10 people with 100,000 connections, getting to one million.
''So will it be 500 mums and dads, or if they are going to look at trying to bring in the big fish or whales? … And if that's the case, then we will no longer be on a level playing field, because your mum with a couple of kids [can't compete],'' she said.
''Let's hope they mix it up. My guess is the mummy spots are going to be filled by the mummy bloggers, the food spots will be filled by the food bloggers … which means that it won't be purely grass roots, and that's a shame. But by the same token, most social campaigns fail because they try to do a broad approach.''
People can enter through the 500humans.com.au website or through Australian Capital Tourism's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/VisitCanberra. Applications are open until Friday, September 21. The weekend trips are on October 25-27 and February 15-17.